TETRA – today in Europe

The European TETRA market is buoyant, with activity ongoing in many countries, such as Germany and The Netherlands, explains Phil Kidner, CEO of the TCCA

Across Europe, many countries use TETRA networks to provide first responders with reliable and resilient communications;credit: Fredrik Neumann, DNK

Research from IHS Markit shows that Europe is one of the most digitised regions in the world, and the firm expects this trend to continue. Analogue shipments declined by a record-breaking 45 per cent from 2014 to 2015 as Europe migrated to digital. IHS projects that Germany will be one of the most digitised regions in the world, predicting that 99 per cent of the country’s users will be digital by 2020.

TETRA has historically been the digital technology with the greatest uptake in Europe. It has the largest installed base;at the end of 2015 the region had more than half of the world’s active TETRA users, according to IHS data. 

The European TETRA market is buoyant, with ongoing activity in many countries. As well as the new implementation in Germany, the C2000 TETRA network in The Netherlands is being renewed for the Ministerie van Veiligheid en Justitie (Ministry of Security and Justice). C2000 is the communications system for all emergency services in the Netherlands, and one of Europe’s first nationwide TETRA systems. The renewal, planned for completion this year, will see a new TETRA network implemented to support more than 70,000 users.

Hytera's interest in Sepura shows a stern commitment by the Chinese firm to gain access to the strong European and growing American TETRA markets, and help to shape the future for users in TETRA and LTE according to IHS. Hauke Holm, Hytera’s CTO, commented: “We see a growing market for critical communications. The user requirements we are [currently] using TETRA for will remain the same over the years to come – but will be complemented by the latest broadband applications and services. We will see more and more networks that use the advantages of both narrowband critical communications TETRA and broadband advanced applications and services.”

Although broadband applications are increasingly utilised by critical users, we are seeing a significant uptick in the use of TETRA for data. This is due to the active development of relevant applications and solutions, driven by users wanting to make efficiency and performance improvements and maximise their investment in TETRA networks. Given that TETRA is a narrowband technology, developing data applications for TETRA might not seem the most obvious route. However, many of the operational benefits require relatively small amounts of data to be exchanged. The TETRA system over which the data is transmitted is secure, available and accessible. Operators have a trusted tool in their TETRA network, and want to make the most of it. For example, working with external sensors TETRA has seen increasing deployment as a telemetry, telecontrol and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) solution where availability and security are key requirements.

The resilience, availability and security of TETRA coupled with its efficient use of spectrum will continue to make it an attractive bearer for critical voice and dedicated data solutions. The ongoing development of additional functionality within TETRA terminals will be important for existing TETRA users and new ones alike. In this latter category, the opportunities presented by smart metering and smart cities may be significant. Applications using TETRA along with other bearers are already in use and it is likely that hybrid solutions will be increasingly common. 

With the ubiquity of broadband services for the consumer and business worlds, public safety organisations are looking for similar in their professional communications – in particular high-speed data capabilities that will enable applications that cannot be supported by narrowband technologies. 

New LTE services can be added as a complementary capability without giving up the infrastructure of existing mission-critical networks. This is the case in Belgium with ASTRID’s Blue Light Mobile (BLM) high-speed data service. The second generation of BLM will be launched this year, and will provide single-SIM access to all of Belgium’s commercial 4G network operators, offering priority and pre-emption for voice and data within a secure environment for the end user. Rod Stafford, director of applications for Sepura, which is supporting the ASTRID implementation, said: “We anticipate further innovations, enabling applications to be accessed from both TETRA and commercial LTE networks, and devices that can operate seamlessly across the two technologies.”

When opting to add broadband capabilities the key priority is to ensure that existing services will continue without reduced service levels. With this approach an organisation can keep using a narrowband network for mission-critical voice and messaging and introduce mobile broadband services step by step. There is growing interest in the hybrid network model, with a number of trials conducted. A successful example is run by Airbus Defence and Space and RIKS (a national TETRA operator) in Estonia, which tested the capabilities of a smartphone application with critical users.

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The UK represents a unique approach; LTE is expected to be phased in from 2017 through to 2020 as the bearer for the Emergency Services Network (ESN). It will ultimately replace the Airwave TETRA network. However, although LTE technology provides the broadband bearer and enables a range of applications the service requires additional functionality to address the specific security and availability needed by critical communications users. 

Collaborating with other key stakeholders around the world, the TCCA has led initiatives with standards bodies ETSI and 3GPP to define and standardise the necessary features and capabilities in LTE. 3GPP Working Group SA6 was formed specifically to address the requirements for critical broadband mobile communications. Work is ongoing to incorporate the necessary features within the LTE standards to deliver a commonly supported global LTE standard that can properly host mission-critical communications in the future.

Although mission-critical broadband is garnering a lot of focus IHS research shows that TETRA is predicted to remain the technology of choice for public safety and security (PSS), and is projected to continue to expand its installed user base as PSS subscribers across Europe undergo mid-life upgrades to extend the life of TETRA networks. And as we can see from the decision in Germany this will be to at least 2030. 

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The requirement for secure and reliable communications will never go away, and future deployments must consider new threats. Voice will always be the most critical form of communication, but future deployments must also provide mechanisms for secure and reliable data comms.

Phil Kidner is the CEO of the TCCA. Thanks to TCCA members Airbus Defence and Space, DNK Norway, Hytera, IHS Markit, Motorola Solutions and Sepura for contributions to this article.


Excerpt From Tetra Today